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Prep girls hockey season preview: Lightning young but talented

Kiya Danielson of Grand Rapids-Greenway makes a save against Cloquet-Esko-Carlton during a recent game at Northwoods Arena in Cloquet. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

After starting the season with three straight shutouts, Grand Rapids-Greenway girls hockey coach Brad Hyduke knew it was too good to last.

It was.

Next on the schedule was White Bear Lake, a squad with five NCAA Division I recruits, and the result was a 4-1 Bears victory.

"The shutout streak lasted only about three minutes into that one," Hyduke said.

Still, the effort was encouraging for the Lightning as they had just as many shots, 23, as the Bears. Despite graduating 11 seniors, GRG (5-2-1) isn't lacking in talent.

"It was a good early measuring stick," Hyduke said. "We're not that far off, but we've still got work to do. There is a lot we can take away from that, especially with all our new kids as they adjust to the high school speed of the game."

The Lighting have one of the Northland's top players in junior forward Sadie Peart, who has emerged as more of a scorer, with 10 goals and nine assists for 19 points through eight games. She has committed to Division I Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

Wisconsin-Superior recruit Ty Bischoff is a senior leader along the blue line. Junior Kiya Danielson and sophomore Emily Trast went into the season battling for the goaltending duties, with Danielson (1.92 goals-against average, .909 save percentage) emerging as the early frontrunner.

"It's been good with this young team," Bischoff said. "It's awesome being as successful as we've been, so early in the season, and we should only get better."

While Bischoff is offensive-minded (12-16—28 last season), with that patented Bischoff family scoring mentality, she plays both ends of the ice, especially with some inexperience in net after the Lightning graduated a two-year starter in Paige Hemphill.

"I try to get up into the play as much as I can, but I just have to get back as fast as I can," Bischoff said. "You can't let yourself get beat by the player, more so than the puck. You have to stay on the defensive end of things. I'm always nagging Hyduke, 'Can I play forward, just for a shift?' And he's like, 'No, I've got to keep you back on D.' "

Bischoff is fine with that. She has played defense as long as she can remember, even if she doesn't remember why. The talented and long family hockey history is almost all forwards, but her brother, Jake, is also a defenseman.

"I don't know where (defense) came from," Bischoff said. "Just the coaches we had growing up, I guess."

Bischoff is quiet by nature, but is being more vocal this season. She almost has to be. There's not a whole lot of senior leadership to go around here. She is one of only three seniors on the squad, and certainly isn't looking forward to "next year." She wants to win now.

"It's just different being older, having young girls look up to me," Bischoff said. "We have a very good team, and our goalies are coming around, for sure. They're a huge help."

Best of the rest

Duluth returns its top four point producers in seniors Izzy Sutherland (9-16—25 last season), Sydney Schuman (14-5—19), Ana Kunst (8-8—16) and Ella Ierino (1-11—12), as well as sophomore goalie Sarah Spencer and junior goalie Keelan Syck. After not having any seniors last season, the Northern Stars are much more experienced.

Duluth Marshall returns Maren Friday, Emily Lemker, Olivia Boettcher, Claire Casey and Carissa Mudrak, to go with newcomers Gracie Thomas, Katie McKenzie and Meredith Boettcher. Thomas was injured last year and McKenzie had to play junior varsity after transferring. Expectations are high as the core group of players who started the program are now sophomores and juniors. Goal scoring needs to be more consistent if the Hilltoppers are going to take the next step after finishing runner-up to Hibbing-Chisholm last year in Section 7A.

Proctor-Hermantown is celebrating its 20th season as a program, with recent state coaching Hall of Fame selection Glen Gilderman leading the Mirage all those years. They return nine seniors with lots of experience who served in supporting roles the past three years and will now be asked to lead. They're hardworking and skilled. There is an influx of talent from a U-15 team that was one of the best in the state last season. This year's U-15 squad recently was ranked No. 1 by Let's Play Hockey, plus the program fields two U-12s, two U-10s and a new U-8, so the future is promising. Top returners include seniors Karie Lenard (7-15—22 last year), Torii Thomas (5-5—10), Talynn Miller (4-5—9) and Mariah Haedrich (3-5—8), and junior Dehli Heikes (9-4—13) at forward, seniors Olyvia Opsahl (9-11—20) and Kennedy Halverson (5-12—17) on defense and juniors Ryan Gray (14-4, 2.22 GAA, .889 save percentage) and Samantha Lewis (5-1-1, 1.8, .894) in net.

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton hopes to be competitive after moving from Section 7AA to 7A. The Lumberjacks are young, with just one senior in captain Ally Martin, and five juniors, but return top scorers Kiana Bender and Taylor Nelson and offensive defenseman Keagen Anderson. Nelson has committed to Bemidji State. Junior goalie Elise Lund is new to the varsity level.

Superior has a new coach in Marc Franta, but will need to replace the program's all-time leading scorer in Emma Peterson.

Moose Lake Area will have a new look with the departure of the Bird twins, Jessica and Jamie, among others. The Rebels return Maddy Gamst in net, Josie Benzie and Abby Painovich on defense and Jamie Benzie, Lauren Pederson and Ruby Mohelsky up front. The Rebels expect to be competitive with a strong core of veteran players and a nice group of rookies joining the fray.

Hibbing-Chisholm, the defending Section 7A champion, graduated Mallorie Iozzo, the News Tribune's player of the year who is now playing for Minnesota Duluth. The Bluejackets return the likes of sophomores Allie Bussey (9-9—18 this season) and Emma Lundell (5-8—13) at forward and junior Abby Edstrom in net, who has a .930 save percentage and already has pitched three shutouts.

Eveleth-Gilbert Area is led by senior Brenna Ceglar and juniors Katie Scherf and Bekah Davidson. Other returners expected to contribute are Anneka Lundgren, Anna Seitz and Sophia Flatley. The Golden Bears hope to be more competitive and surprise teams.

International Falls returns senior forward Amber Tilander (34-23—57 last season) and junior forward Grace Bragg (8-17—25). Returning on defense are senior Marissa Kerry and junior Morgan Rasmussen, while in net are junior Grace Wegner and sophomore Macey Marcotte. The Broncos have good returning depth on the blue line, but lost their top two centers in Lexi Edwards and Lexi Erickson. They could have growing pains early, but should be fine in the second half.

North Shore has a new coach in Neva Maxwell and seniors in April Velcheff, Cora Carter, Everly Bauck, Liza Skulj and Aurora Johnson.

Hayward-Ashland returns senior captains Sam Stegmann (5-7—12 last year) and Sarah Pearson (18-12—30) and expects them to lead the team early. Rikki Saletri (4-9—13) and Lauren Donnellan (8-18—26) return along the blue line, with both girls being smart defensively while adding offensive skill. The team is young, but has good speed and an open goalie competition. Defense will be key.

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